Updated: Mar 21, 2022
In March of 2020, school districts, students, administrators, teachers, and support staff had to pivot on a dime to try and make the best of an unprecedented situation. Almost two years later, we must have a paradigm shift in the way we approach students of all ages, their well being, their social emotional growth, and their mental health. These must be at the forefront of our educational approach. If we don’t make significant adjustments to our teaching and the way we approach learning, society is going to feel the ramifications of the pandemic for many many years to come.
Many teachers are already doing amazing SEL type activities and work in their classrooms each day. If teachers and professors are given adequate time to become more comfortable with techniques and simple strategies, SEL work will become common “Good Practice.” If we take the parts of what we already do really well and infuse quality doses of SEL in various forms, we could make a considerable shift across all levels of education. This might be exactly what we need to flourish.
No matter the age or the level of schooling, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is needed in every classroom across the country; Pre- K through 12 and beyond into University. Quality, connected Social Emotional Learning should be infused and practiced throughout all aspects of a student’s day (Fundamentals of SEL).
We are now approaching two years into pandemic life. As educators, we need to shift our way of thinking and reevaluate how we approach students overall. While many of us want to put this time behind us, if we don’t acknowledge the consequences of these past few years, we are doing a disservice to our children. Our focus should be on Social-emotional, developmental, academic, behavioral, and mental health.
It sounds like a tall order. BUT IS IT?
What was life like in March 2020? In the beginning… Kids took up baking, your significant other spent more time in the garage and the yard, you binged everything you could find on Netflix, in the fridge, and bought a wine fridge. I know, I thought the same as most people, two weeks?! Yes, I could spend two weeks with my young adult children home with me. Gifted time, that I may never see again. My colleagues thought it was a gift to have a break from sports, activities, art classes, and clubs. My significant other was home for a few weeks to have dinner with the family.
We began watching shows together, cooking, eating dinner at the dinner table, playing games together. It seemed like there were silver linings. Two weeks turned into 6 months, then into a year of on-again/off-again, in school/out of school. Sports were on, then off, then canceled; scholarships lost, rights of passage and lifetime opportunities stifled. Microphones muted, cameras turned off, kids wouldn’t get out of bed, tears started and some never stopped.
The Covid numbers rose and family and friends passed away. Kids couldn't hang out with friends, have play dates, hug their grandparents or worse - they never saw their family or close friends again. Many didn’t have friends with headsets, others played video games until after midnight to remain connected and social. Gaming became a way-of-life for many children; especially teens.
Students with special needs suffered traumatic developmental delays across all domains, making the isolation gut-wrenching for these students and their parents. The ONLY friends many students with special needs knew were those that were in their classes; the students who sat next to them in their P.E. or Art class. They held those connections dear even if they were more friendly than true friends.
In more than a few unfortunate households, family members were not paying attention to their children of any age, because parents were having their own mental health difficulties. Adults had grave struggles emerging into the light amidst pandemic life.
Our students are woven into these narratives. As educators, what are we doing for these children?
Consider six very different students and their Covid issues;
Adam- March 13th, 2020. 3 year old Adam was picked up from his 3year old pre-K/daycare class with his extra set of clothes and his mom was told they would be closed for a few days, maybe a week.
Sosha- March 13th, 2020. 4th grader Sosha left school and walked home with a folder of worksheets for each subject and a Chromebook she only used when her teacher Ms. Owens would give them one from the class-computer cart. She was told they would be out of school for maybe a week.
Travis- 25 minutes away in another school district, 4th grader Travis left school on his designated school bus with a folder, wrapped up breakfast and lunch for 3 days in his backpack.
Junho- March 13th, 2020. Solid student, 8th grader Junho, left school with his Chrome book and was told to check Google classroom on Monday for the work he would need to do in each of his classes for possibly a week or two.
Jamie- March 13th, 2020. Honors student, socially strong, varsity cheerleader, 11th grader, Jamie came home from competition cheer practice with her Lenovo and was told the competition was canceled for the weekend and the coach would be in touch about practice next week. Assignments for her honors classes would be up in the student portal.
Katelyn- March 13th 2020- Average student, Junior in College, Katelyn was told she couldn’t leave her dorm room and classes would be closed until further notice. Her 21st birthday was March 16th, she was looking forward to celebrating at the local pub with her BFF from home and many of her college friends.
MARCH 16, 2020….. Shelter in place order.
All different ages, all different backgrounds, lives, and situations. ALL affected by the pandemic developmentally, academically, social/emotionally, and behaviorally. Each student is in a different stage of life, all experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress; significantly higher than their peers just under 2 years ago.
Each is still reeling and dealing from the impact of pandemic life.
Adam is now 5 ½ years old and should be in Kindergarten, but his parents made the decision to retain him a year to give him time to work through his separation anxiety, bed wetting, as well as behavioral outbursts.
Now a 6th grader, Sosha has school phobia. When she makes it to school, she requires frequent breaks to go to the guidance office, has difficulty connecting with her peers, and struggles to follow multi-step directions.
Travis is now a 6th grader who lost 6 family members to Covid-19, including his Grandmother who was his primary caregiver. He sneaks food home from the cafeteria for his siblings in his backpack, because throughout the pandemic there wasn't enough food. He and his siblings would receive their breakfast and lunch meals at school. He didn’t have virtual learning options throughout the time he was at home and when the school was finally able to supply him with a computer, he would have to walk to a local store to get Wifi with his older sister.
Sophomore, Junho doesn’t hand in work on time, skips classes, has been caught in school vaping, and is lashing out at teachers. He has been distant with his parents and demonstrating anger-management issues.
Freshwoman in college Jamie has diagnosed clinical depression, anxiety, ADHD, low self esteem and has placed herself in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend. She is struggling to commit and pass college classes, getting up to go to work, misses therapy and health appointments and has severed ties with most of her high school teammates and friends.
Katelyn returned home in early April of 2020, when the dorms were closed. She was unable to retrieve her belongings until summer. She and her parents made the decision for her to take a year off from school due to clinical depression, and low self-esteem from feeling she failed because she was unable to manage online learning. She was never able to celebrate her 21st birthday and has minimal contact with her college friends. Her parents placed her in an inpatient mental health facility due to self harming tendencies.